Sharr White’s 2011 one-act, “The Other Place,” is so intricately and craftily constructed, so disorienting in its mix of fact, fiction and fantasy, present and past, that you aren’t quite sure exactly what’s going on till close to the end of its fleet, perplexing 70 minutes.
When we enter the theater, we see a terrifically crafted series of TV drug ads (audio-visual design by Estefanía Ricalde; projection design by Salomón Maya) promoting a new medication called Identamyl.
Juliana Smithton (engaging and intriguing Tina Machele Brown) enters to give a corporate medicine sales pitch to an audience of doctors.
Later, she will tell her oncologist husband, Ian (effective Nick Young), whom she accuses of philandering, that she had “an episode.”
She will see another doctor (talented, triple-cast Emily Jerez), and will talk to her daughter (Jerez) and a former post-doc (Jaden Guerrero), and in the family’s “other place” on Cape Cod, she will meet a bitter but compassionate soon-to-be-divorced woman (Jerez again).
It will take us a while to sort it all out.
But since Juliana is so forceful (Read: bossy, brittle, smart and often funny in her caustic, sardonic wit), we’re willing to go on this journey with her and her beleaguered spouse. We watch as her brilliant, brash composure cracks, her moods become more volatile and explosive, her vulnerabilities surface and her well-built defensive/delusional walls come crashing down.
To say more would ruin the puzzle-like ambiguity of this taut, haunting and unnerving play.
Kudos to OnStage Playhouse for once again tackling a provocative subject (and play), and once again giving it a stellar production, this time under the compelling direction of Sandra Ruiz (who also designed the costumes).
The cast is impressively malleable, riding out this trauma-riddled family drama with aplomb.
The scenic design (Duane McGregor), stretched, overlapping fabric triangles that flank the long, narrow stage, is a bit enigmatic (and challenging for actors to make smooth entrances and exits). The lighting (Kevin “Blax” Burroughs) and sound (Jaden Guerrero) add to the mystery of the piece.
You may feel distraught at the end (some of this could happen to any of us), but you’ll also know that you watched something fearsome and significant.
- “The Other Place” runs through April 17 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue in Chula Vista
- Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Running Time: 70 min.
- Tickets ($22-$25) are at 619-422-7787 or onstageplayhouse.org
- COVID PROTOCOL: Proof of vaccination required. Masks are required at all times.
Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.